Yikes: Two Delta Boeing 757s Almost Collided At JFK

Two Delta Air Lines aircraft were in a near-miss at New York’s JFK airport last Friday evening, as one blocked the runway while the other was already accelerating for takeoff. The swift actions of air traffic controllers at the airport prevented a disaster from occurring and no passengers were hurt. The FAA is investigating.

Delta 757
Two Delta 757s almost collided at JFK. Photo: Delta

What happened?

Having previously landed and begun its taxi off the runway, Delta Air Lines flight 300, a Boeing 757-200, was contacted by ATC with instructions. The controller said,

“Delta 300, hold short of runway 22R and JULIET. What is your gate number?”

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Delta Air Lines responds with, “Twenty-two.”

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The controller then gives the all clear to another Delta flight, DAL 253, to take off via runway 22R. Delta 253, another 757-200, confirms this clearance and begins its take off roll.

However, there is a problem. Delta 300 appears to have commenced its taxi to the gate and is in the process of crossing runway 22R!

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Delta 757
A pilot misunderstood the ATC instructions. Photo: Brian Correira via Wikimedia

“Delta! Delta 300!!” shouts the air traffic controller, seeing that the aircraft is halfway across the runway and completely blocking the path of the rapidly accelerating DAL 253. Thankfully Delta 253 has received an alert to the problem and aborts its take off in time. The pilot advises the tower controller,

“Delta 253 is aborting takeoff.”

Understandably the controller is not very happy with the situation. She immediately jumps on comms to find out what on Earth happened.

“Delta 300, you were instructed to hold short of runway 22R.”

Unbelievably, the pilot attempts to blame the error on the controller, saying,

“Yeah, you say that, but I also repeated back cleared to cross, but I’m sorry about that. We missed that.”

The controller stands her ground, stating that DAL 300 actually did not. She again asks for the gate number, to which both pilots respond “Twenty-two.” The captain again attempts to pin the blame on the ATC, saying,

“You asked us that and I also… you said cleared to cross and I repeated that. I thought that’s what you said.”

Later, the controller notifies the pilots that they have potentially committed a deviation, and asks them to call into the tower. This is known as a ‘Brasher Warning’.  You can hear the entire exchange along with a helpful animation at the video below:

Who’s in the wrong?

The FAA is opening an investigation into what went wrong at JFK last week. Clearly, this was a close call and could have ended in disaster. These sorts of incidents should never be able to happen, so what went wrong?

From the audio we’ve heard, it appears that the pilot misheard the instructions from the tower to hold at the junction with the runway. He instead thought he had been instructed to cross. The failsafe in this situation is that he should have repeated back to the ATC the instruction to hold, and the ATC should have listened out for the repeat.

Delta at JFK
JFK is a major hub for Delta. Photo: Ad Meskens via Wikimedia

The Brasher Warning issued suggests that ATC believed the pilot was at fault. A Brasher Warning is a bit like getting your Miranda rights before being arrested. It gives the pilots some time to collect their thoughts and warns them that what they say on that phone call to the tower will likely be recorded and could be used in court against them.

However, there is some fault on the controller’s side also. That ATC should have ensured that the pilot read back their hold short instructions. Ultimately, the FAA will decide who was to blame for this hair raising near miss.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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Greg

Thanks for this. I didn’t know that the pilot deviation notification was referred to as a Brasher Warning – very interesting to google that.

Kilkea

You have heard the tape. Can we hear it?

Robert Thomas

Pilot and controller both at fault. Pilot didn’t read back and the controller didn’t ask. Didn’t help that the runway and the gate were the same number. Just added to the confusion. Neither followed the protocol correctly. If they had, this wouldn’t have happened.

Gerry S

ATCs instructs was clear." HOLD at Runway 22R ". Pilot should have repeated. ATC could have sought confirmation. Whatever, this is squarely on the pilot. Being Delta, you can be certain that his performance will be analysed. Not looking good for him.

High Mile Club

She clearly said “Hold Short”. I don’t know of the pilot mistook her clearing them to cross when she cleared the other flight for takeoff, but she clearly said FLT 253 was clear, not 300. Since it was late at night, I’m betting the guy in 300 was itching to clock out.

Mwanafunzi

Hmm. ATC gave a critical instruction that *requires* readback, but stuck a routine question on the end. Not good practice.

Then the pilot failed to readback the hold-short instruction AND ATC failed to demand the readback. You can never be sure a message has been received and understood until you get that readback. So ATC s*****d-up there

And no matter what, the pilot cannot cross a runway without hearing ‘clear to cross’ AND reading that back. So the pilot s*****d-up there.

Both at fault IMHO

Mike

As a 34 year controller, the controller issued a hold short instruction that the pilot did not confirm with anything close to a read-back of the instruction. THE CONTROLLER FAILED to instruct the pilot to readback the hold short instruction as REQUIRED per FAAO 7110.65, Par. 3-7-2. This event is exactly why the rules require the CONTROLLER to obtain a read-back of hold short instructions. This is what controllers get paid to do and this controller failed to execute her job correctly which would have maintained a safe environment regardless of what the flight crew understood.

Lowflying

As a 36 year military and airline global pilot, I can say from experience that nobody intentionally f***’s up. This needs to be investigated and learnings from that investigation applied to procedures. No need to hang anybody. Having flown globally I can’t say that the R/T in the USA is the best I’ve heard, to be charitable, and that applies to pilots and ATC. The system needs to improve and we get there by not blaming but learning and improving.

Maarten

I doubt that all the audio is in de video. For example, we do not hear the atc aborting the take-off while she later explains why she aborted the take-off. There are two frequencies: ground and departures, so we might be missing some crucial information. Perhaps the conversation that the pilot is talking about… So let the FAA do their job before drawing conclusions

Joe Shmoe

If the aircrew doesn’t read back the clearance correctly, the controller is at fault.

Stephen

The recording you listened to switches back and forth between the two tower frequencies. If you listen to a recording of just the correct frequency, you can hear the pilot of DAL300 read back the hold short instruction at 3:50: https://archive-server.liveatc.net/kjfk/KJFK-Twr-Jan-10-2020-2330Z.mp3

Igest

As an ATCO instructor, I can tell you that if it was a training, after such a performance, the controller would fail the session and if on OJT (on-job training) she would be immediately substituted on the control position. On a normal working day, it is inexcusable: she mixes one of the most critical instructions – HOLD SHORT of RUNWAY, with a stand number (focusing her attention and mind on this), she doesn’t even wait for pilot’s read back and go, in the most careless way, give a TAKE OFF clearance (on the same runway!), while at the same time the DAL300 is reading back (even though an incorrect read back) so that his message got overlaid by the controllers take off clearance communication. Again, inexcusable.

bluefrog

a big airport like JFK i’m surprised there aren’t more of theses incidents ,hats off to all ATC in airports like JFK but people are only human and mistakes happen lucky nearly all pass without terrible consequences,i wonder what the retired steve ,thinks of this as JFK was his airport (anyone who doesn’t know ,,excellent ATC recordings on youtube about ATC at JFK)